A newsletter on audience research and development for cultural leaders. One reader calls it, "sometimes funny"

One of the topics we touched on in our meetup the other night was what approach organizations might take to engage audiences while everything is closed and everyone is home.

I’d generalize the two camps that emerged as “slow down, listen, and then act” versus “experiment, produce, and see what works”.

Let’s dig into these perspectives.

Slow down, listen, act

Nina Simon describes this perspective in her article, How Can I Contribute? Four Steps I’m Taking to Figure it Out.

Do read the whole article, but I’ll summarize Nina’s four steps:

  1. Select a community of focus: “You can’t help everyone. So ask yourself: what community especially matters to you right now?”
  2. Listen to that community: “If you take a blind guess as to what a particular community might care most about, there’s a good chance you’ll guess wrong. But there’s an easy alternative: listen to them.”
  3. Map your skills and assets: “At the same time as you learn what matters most to the communities you care most about, try to learn more about yourself. What can you uniquely offer? What existing assets and skills do you have that might be relevant?”
  4. Check your assumptions: “Once you have an idea that matches your assets to your perceived community interests, take a pause. Check in with community representatives before hitting go. You might think something’s a great idea, but value is in the eye of the community.”

What I love about Nina’s recommendation is that these are all the things that orgs are ideally doing anyway, in my view — pandemic or no pandemic. It makes me hopeful that the current crisis might create space for some organizations to slow down, be decisive about who they want to help, and map out how they are supporting those people today and how they might support them in the future.

I’ve been hesitant to express this point of view in recent weeks. I keep pausing to ask myself, “Am I just being totally biased to view this as a potentially good time for orgs to re-examine their strategy and goals?” I’m always advocating for organizations to pursue steps similar to what Nina describes — I don’t want to be the hammer that looks around and sees a world full of nails.

But hearing Nina share recommendations like this gives me a bit more confidence — The steps she describes rhyme with my outline for the Audience Progress Workshop:

It feels surprisingly good — perhaps now more than ever — to know that what you’re working on isn’t breaking any new ground. Others are thinking along similar lines.

Experiment, produce, see what works

I think this approach is well-expressed by Sarah Cole, ED of Glazer Children’s Museum. Here she is responding to Nina’s article on Twitter:

I saw Sarah’s tweets and found myself nodding along. She makes a persuasive argument for experimentation and frames it with a kind of joyful defiance in the face of all this adversity that resonates with me.

Maybe both options are equally valid — Making a choice is what matters.

I don’t think there’s a correct approach. I lean toward the slow-down-and-listen side of this continuum, but there are many variables to consider that I’m not addressing here.

Or maybe the only correct approach is to simply be intentional about choosing one or to at least make a choice that’s informed by these different perspectives.

As always, reply to this email to let me know your thoughts or leave a comment below.

Stay healthy and safe,

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I’m donating 100% of the revenue from this newsletter through July 1st to The Wild Center to support them during the pandemic.

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